Adjusting to life with a new baby is stressful, exhausting, and all-consuming — not to mention the long process of physically healing from childbirth and bonding with your newborn. As if the sleep deprivation, raw nipples, and busted-out hooha aren’t enough to deal with, there is also the stressful issue of returning to work.
But one California company is trying to make that transition a little easier. According to USA Today, Schools Financial Credit Union offers employees — both moms and dads — the option of bringing their babies to work until the babies turn 6 months old (or start to crawl) — with full pay.
“I was a little stressed out, but my husband was so sad to go to work today and not have the girls that it made it a little easier for me,” said Alyssa Palomino, one of the employees making use of the baby-at-work program. “At least I can have them with me – it takes the pressure off mom returning to work.”
The bring-your-baby-to-work program has been in effect since 2001, and flexible family-friendly policies are starting to catch on around the country. Just last month, USA Today reported that in an effort to attract and retain sought-after tech employees, Amazon plans to pilot program comprised solely of employees working 30-hour weeks. And the Chicago-based consulting firm Deloitte just announced a new family leave program that provides 16-weeks of fully paid family leave that can be used by new moms and dads, as well as employees caring for aging parents or an ill spouse, significant other, child or sibling.
Let’s be honest, maternity leave in the U.S. pretty much sucks. In fact, the U.S. is one of only three countries that do not guarantee paid maternity leave. (Papua New Guinea and Oman are the other two.) Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows qualified employees to take 12 week of unpaid leave for specific family or medial reasons without losing their job, there is no federal policy requiring employers to provide paid time-off. What’s more, the FMLA only applies to employees who’ve worked at least one year at a company with at least 50 employees — which means that nearly half of the population isn’t even eligible for unpaid time-off after having a baby.
Given the disgraceful state of family leave in this country, it’s not surprising that many women return to work sooner than 12 weeks (before they’ve physically healed or emotionally adjusted to being a mother), because they simply cannot afford to forego the paycheck. In fact, 25% of women return to work 10 days after having a baby. Other women tend to job-related tasks while on maternity leave just so that they aren’t at a disadvantage when they return. And other women drop out of the workforce entirely.
“Even though you get to have time off under the law and all that, some people can’t afford to take off as much time as others,” Schools Financial Credit Union VP of Human Resources Lisa Mackay told USA Today. “So they end up being forced to come back to work sooner than they would want, and [have] to put their child in day care. This gives them the option to come back to work, but still be able to stay with their baby.”
Of course, babies in the workplace does present certain challenges. Children, especially babies, are demanding and distracting. They cry, a lot. They need to be fed, a lot. And they need diaper-changes and cuddling, a lot. But experts say that, even taking into account the reduced productivity and unique challenges the program presents, family-friendly flexible working policies make sense from a recruiting and HR standpoint because they allow companies to attract and retain good employees.
“We know going in the employee is not going to be 100% productive. That is just part of the program, and it’s part of the intention of the program. It’s not a problem,” Mackay explained.
Families are messy and complicated. Life is messy and complicated. There are no easy answers, and we can’t be everything to everyone all the time. Kudos to those companies that acknowledge the messiness, help parents adjust to the demands of work and family, and see children as an asset, not a liability. But, quite frankly, until family-friendly work policies become the norm, instead of the exception, we can’t claim to be a country of family values.